PARENTING: Don't We All Have "Special Needs?"

My spirited, creative kid as an "Asian Warrior Dragon" last Halloween.
Today, I am feeling sad and defeated. I have been mulling the idea of this post around in my head since August, but I didn't know where to start. But today, I am filled with so much emotion that I guess today is the day.

I don't know if that's a good thing. Is writing while emotional ideal? What did Bill Murray say to the ground hog in Groundhog Day? "Don't drive angry!"?

Well, Mamma is driving angry. So put on your seat belts, folks.

I found out in mid September that our uber-creative and energetic daughter has ADHD. Were we surprised? Not really. I had inklings all along, but because she is bright, her grades were good until last year and it's not a huge impairment on the scale of impairments-she had been able to slip through the cracks. I asked each of her teachers ever year what they thought, and I got the "eh"with a shrug and a "Well, I guess we could have her tested." Last year, we got an email from her 4th grade teacher saying we really should have our daughter tested, then no follow up at all! Not from her or the school psychologist (who only comes in once a week, and if you don't fit into that day-you, my friend, are SOL. Truthfully, I am not convinced he actually exists. Many have yet to actually see him in the flesh.). To this very day, I have not heard from this man. It has been over a year, and I have had my own test results meeting with the teachers about our daughter. He has never followed up with me or our private psychologist who left countless voice mails with him. Why? Well, he is only in on Wednesdays, and I or my daughter's doctor need to work around that. See how that works? You have to be your own child's advocate to get anything done. Thank Heaven our daughter's teachers are wonderful and committed to helping her. But most of them are not even trained to deal with the special challenges of an ADHD child. They are getting no special needs support from the administration. They are doing their best on their own.

So, what I have come to realize, sadly, is that the cracks in a Catholic school ARE HUGE. Like, Grand Canyon huge. I am not going to sit and continue to complain about our daughter's current school. What ails them when it comes to special needs families ails all Catholic schools, and that's the lack of resources to support special needs. However, what I don't understand is how we are constantly fundraising all year until we are exhausted-and broke, and there are no resources. But I said I wouldn't complain.

I am going to make my complaints from 5,000 feet higher, because though I have enough current complaints against my current school experience to fill a 1,000 word post, the cause of it is even bigger. In many ways, I can't really blame them.

I am Catholic. I believe in God and Jesus. I live my life trying to be a steward to my faith and my community. I really, really wanted to raise my daughter while being part of a Catholic school. It's how I was raised. What I don't understand is how the Archdiocese of Chicago can completely ignore special needs in their school system. Say what you will about CPS and public schools in general, my child has rights as citizen of the USA and the State of Illinois. Go to any state, city or school site and it's pretty darn clear. But I have no rights as a Catholic parishioner and school family under the Catholic church for an inclusive education. They give no help, no support that I could find. Last I went to their website, the "inclusive education" page gave some lip service to making sure everyone gets a good education and an annoying form/survey to fill out. They don't have support for their schools at all, or a place for families to go to get help, advice or even pay for some. They leave supporting special needs families to the realm of each school. No sweeping philosophy, vision, approach or belief. Nothing. No vision. No leadership. No help.

So today begins Catholic schools week, where many schools will have open houses for prospective parents to tour. I was up until 2 a.m. looking at reviews, visiting websites to make a tour list for myself today. Because I am trying desperately to find a Catholic home better suited to my child that can accommodate her ADHD. And this is what saddened angered me the most, and why I am writing this post now.

Many of them do not even talk about special needs, and if they do, it's a few sentences at best. The one school I was told had more of a focus on special needs from another parent had their site down for construction-DURING CATHOLIC SCHOOLS WEEK! This is a huge red flag. Talk about lack of leadership.

This is what I don't understand, and it's simple, really.
Jesus taught this very popular lesson;
And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.'"
(Matthew 25.35-40 ESV)

Ignoring the issues of special needs families in the Catholic school system goes against the very teachings of Christianity and the very core of what we teach our own children in these schools. Am I the only one who sees the horrifying irony of this truth? Do Catholic schools want to weed out these children and focus on just the fast track kids who can get awesome test scores and get into Harvard? Because that's what it looks like, and it saddens my heart and my soul. I think it saddens God. 

When I went searching for support to get our daughter tested, our school ignored us. There was nothing I could find on the Archdiocese website. Do you know where I found help and a wonderful community that has been an awesome support to our family? The Jewish Family Counseling Center. Yup. That's right. They are all inclusive, with their arms wide open. They have been a blessing. And they are a Jewish community center. I thank God for them everyday. They have been a life raft in the stormy sea of learning disabilities we have suddenly found ourselves in. I love, love, love them. Why doesn't the Catholic community have anything like this place? SAD.

This whole awful journey has made me realize a lot. One, that we all have special needs, really. We each come to learning differently, We all have special strengths and weaknesses. Some kids are visual learners. Some are more methodical. Some need to "do". Some need to "read" then "do". Some memorize for the test and do well. Some are more creative. In some ways, I don't think our educational system has evolved much from the little red school house days. Think about it. Back then we had a group of kids with all different ages and backgrounds in one room. They were getting taught the basics by one lonely teacher. This poor teacher had to accommodate not just each age level, but each child's ability as well. 

Not much has changed. Yes, kids are closer in age in the grade levels, but that's about it. Throw them all in a room, teach them the same curriculum in the same way to all of them and hope they all get it. The public schools have at least tried to accommodate the children that do have special needs. Maybe the Catholic schools want the same kids, at the same level in the same room to make their lives easier? I am not sure, but maybe the whole model needs to change? I read that the Bill Gates Foundation was trying some test schools out involving more independent learning with each child having their own "cubicle" and then collaborating on projects with other students. I don't know how that went. But I urge the innovators of today to start looking at our antiquated school model. However, that's not going to help me today. Today I need to open up my school options to help my daughter be the best she can be. I need to be her advocate, because no one else will be. As the Catholic church tries to stay relevant to today's families, ignoring special needs children in their school system is not a good way to achieve that. And if we turn to The Bible, it's pretty clear Jesus wouldn't have wanted it, either.


  1. Flora,
    We went through a similar experience in our family. Except through the Lutheran school system. Things hit blacktop about 4th grade for us too. I decided to have testing done through CPS and as was told that by not getting my child the additional services needed I was committing child abuse. After I picked up my jaw and told the person what I thought of her comment. We moved to the world of public education. It was not an easy transition for me lots of anxiety and even more tears and fear. But I became very well versed on what my child needed in way of services and what was legally our rights. My child flourished and is a successful well rounded adult. Every situation is different but this was how it worked out in our family. There is light at the end of the tunnel but it is a long long tunnel and a tiny light. Deb Caputo

  2. Trust, that as a mother you know your daughter best. Keep advocating for her.


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